Barcelona is one of the most popular city break destinations in Europe. The city is bursting at the seams, especially in the summer months. It’s not a surprise to me though, as which other European capital offers the possibility to combine sightseeing with a beach holiday? Barcelona is diverse and colourful, and it’s here where you’ll bump into the works and buildings of the Catalan artist Antoni Gaudi all over the city, some of which have since been included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Gaudi’s works are examples of the Modernist movement, which combines modern architecture with old materials among its other features. Among all the buildings worth seeing, Sagrada Familia, an extraordinary basilica, immediately catches the eye.
The unfinished masterpiece of Antoni Gaudi
You are walking through the Eixample district of Barcelona with the travel guide always in your hand. You just walked past the Casa Mila – it must be somewhere around here though, right? And suddenly they appear out of nowhere: the impressive, 100 metre-high towers of the Sagrada Familia, the most famous church in Barcelona. It’s so large that it towers over the buildings nearby. You follow along the street wanting to take a closer look at the masterpiece. You stretch your neck as you come to the building, having no idea where to look at the splendid and detailed façades. Now you know that your travel guide wasn’t exaggerating at all – the Sagrada Familia truly is the highlight of the city!
The fact that the church has not been completed to this day, even though its construction began in 1882, doesn’t do this grand sight any harm.
There is always work being done one of the façades here. The city has an ambitious goal of finishing the Sagrada Familia after 144 years of construction for the 100th anniversary of Antoni Gaudi’s death, which takes place in 2026. During the long period of construction, many architectural styles were mixed together of course. And so there are elements of Neo-Gothic, Modernism and contemporary architecture found in and on the building, which can be observed especially on the two façades of the church. But the style in which the Sagrada Familia is erected still today is unique. You won’t find a church like it anywhere else in the world. The Nativity Façade on the north-eastern side of the basilica, which is Gaudi’s lifetime work, portrays the birth of Jesus and part of his life. The attention to detail gives away why the decoration of the façade took so much time. Three porticoes, symbolising the Christian virtues of faith, love and hope, cover the Biblical story.
The Passion Façade on the south-west side of the church is the exact opposite of the Nativity Façade. Instead of rich ornaments, you’ll find clear structures and large figures. The six diagonal columns supporting the façade will definitely catch your eye. It’s obvious from the different architectural styles involved here: the master himself was not at work here. The sculptor Josep Maria Subirachs began decorating the façade in 1986 and the works are still far from complete. The works on the Glory Façade on the south-east side of Sagrada Familia have not even begun yet and there are 21 columns and two chapels among others planned for this side. So the pompous Sagrada Familia will keep growing and changing until 2026, so you’ll always have a reason to come back to see it.
Apart from the façades, the towers which partially loom over it all are also under construction. Eight of the planned 18 towers, dedicated to the 12 apostles, 4 evangelists, Mary and Jesus Christ, are already standing and open for visitors. If you’ve got enough stamina, you could climb the towers via a steep spiral staircase with no railings. Otherwise you could take the elevator which will whisk you all the way up. The towers are connected to each other by bridges, so once you walk up you’ll be able to visit the other towers without having to repeat the climb.
Sagrada Familia – fair on the outside and on the inside
If you think that it’s just the beauty of the façades that can’t be surpassed, you should take your place in the queue at once and view the basilica from the inside. The waiting time can be quite long depending on the season and time of day, it’s best to come in the early hours of the morning, as then you’ll have the chance to tour the Sagrada Familia without any waiting time and so see most of it. If you visit the inside of the basilica, you’re bound to be amazed by its size and splendid colours. The thick columns are built out of various materials and differ from each other in thickness and structure. All the columns join up under the roof of the church and imitate the branches of a tree. Gaudi was often inspired by nature and so it’s no wonder that such elements can repeatedly be found in his works.
Entry and opening times:
- April – September: open daily from 9am – 8pm
- October: open daily from 9am – 7pm
- November – February: open daily from 9am – 6pm
- Entry: €15 per person, €19.50 with guided tour
The light shining through the colourful stained-glass windows sets the scene for the scenario perfectly. The raised altar with its canopy decorated with grape vines is the highlight of the interior. Behind the altar glitters the Nativity Façade, made into a real feast for the eyes by its bright colours. By the way: an organ is sought after at the moment which will be able to provide music for the entire basilica, as there is no instrument like that as of yet. Incidentally the Pope’s consecration of the basilica as a minor basilica took place in the huge sanctuary in 2010. Such a consecration is an honorary title for churches. The fact that the basilica was honoured with it without being completed just proved how amazing this architecture.
If you’ve got the chance, you should visit the crypt. This part of the building has been completed and regular church services regularly take place here, so it may happen that the crypt is not open for visitors. In addition Antoni Gaudi was laid to rest here in 1926, since he was responsible for completing a large part of the construction of Sagrada Familia. The city has also dedicated a museum in the middle of the basilica, where you can find out more about his working methods.
Visiting the Sagrada Familia, you won’t just be viewing a magnificent church, but also a part of the city’s history. For me, a visit to the Basilica is an absolute must, so don’t let the possible waiting times put you off – it’s definitely worth it!